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1994 International Theatre Festival of Chicago

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The most noticeable difference between this edition of the International Theatre Festival of Chicago and the four others that preceded it is: there's no Shakespeare! No sprawling marathons, no this-year's-Olivier pandering. English theater is still represented--by Alan Ayckbourn's new play, performed by his own company--but it doesn't overshadow the rest of the fest. Which might mean that festival organizers trust in their audience's broadened tastes. Or maybe they're just burned out on the Bard.

This year's festival runs through June 19, with offerings ranging from rethought classics to experimental originals and from large-scale ensembles to solo performers. It features ten productions by seven companies and individuals, as well as breakfast and lunch presentations, postshow discussions, and professional workshops. This week's attractions include two shows each by Mexico's Taller del Sotano and Greece's Attis Theatre, one by England's Stephen Joseph Theatre, one by Canadian solo artist Robert Lepage, and preview performances by the Netherlands' Dogtroep company; see listings below for more information. Subsequent offerings (which will be listed here on a week-by-week basis) include Dublin's Gate Theatre in Sean O'Casey's Juno and the Paycock and San Francisco monologuist Marga Gomez in two pieces, Memory Tricks and Marga Gomez Is Pretty, Witty, and Gay.

Performances take place at the following venues: DePaul University's Merle Reskin Theatre (formerly the Blackstone), 60 E. Balbo; the Wellington Theater (its last offering before it returns to its former incarnation as the Ivanhoe), 750 W. Wellington; the Vic Theatre, 3145 N. Sheffield; and the Navy Pier Skyline Stage, 600 E. Grand (at Lake Michigan). Various public programs augmenting the festival will be held at the Columbia College Theater/Music Center, 72 E. 11th, and the Goodman Theatre Studio, 200 S. Columbus. (A June 1 talk by Alan Ayckbourn at Northwestern University, not presented by the festival, is also listed below.) Single ticket prices are listed for each production; for single ticket orders, call 831-2822. For series tickets, call 664-3378; for group discounts, details on the professional workshops, and general festival information, call 664-3370.

Following is the schedule for May 26 through June 2:

THURSDAY, MAY 26

El otro exilio ("The Other Exile")

"Combining the cool, graceful physicality of France's Compagnie Patrice Bigel and the explosive despair of Germany's Pina Bausch with a nonchalant formality uniquely their own, Taller del Sotano create an intellectual and sensual feast in a minimalist style. El otro exilio follows Albert Camus (portrayed with unrestrained brilliance by Nestor Galvan) on a passionate, desperate, wildly imaginative psychological journey moments before his death. Playwrights Paulino and Rosa Sabugal, who based their work on Camus' writing as well as incidents from his life, and director Jose Acosta Navas create exquisite metaphors for Camus' absurdist worldview and his struggle to find joy in a world without hope. . . . Performed on a blank stage with a minimum of props under gray, clinical lights, El otro exilio is as stark, eloquent, and enigmatic as the best of Camus' work," says Reader critic Justin Hayford. Performed in Spanish with English translation available. Wellington Theater, 7:30 PM (opening). $20-$25.

Communicating Doors

Are you going to Scarborough fair? No need; Scarborough's coming here. At least it's sending a representative: the renowned Stephen Joseph Theatre, whose namesake--the director-producer son of Hermione Gingold--was the mentor of writer-director Alan Ayckbourn, the theater's artistic director since 1971. England's most prolific playwright, Ayckbourn's a master farceur with a knack for toying with space and time relationships as he satirizes the malaise of "classless" contemporary Britain. His work is devilishly difficult for American companies to perform effectively, as several unsatisfying off-Loop efforts have recently demonstrated. So it's a rare opportunity to see the real thing when Ayckbourn's own resident company arrives here to perform his recent comedy thriller about a prostitute who jumps backwards and forwards in time, via a door linking two posh hotel suites, in an effort to escape a murderous businessman. Merle Reskin Theatre, 7:30 PM. $21-$40.

FRIDAY, MAY 27

Brown Bag Lunch

The Chicago Tribune's Rick Kogan and writer Alton Miller host an informal lunch discussion with members of the Stephen Joseph Theatre and Taller del Sotano. Goodman Theatre Studio, 12:10 PM. Free; box lunches available for $8.

Communicating Doors

See listing for Thursday, May 26. Merle Reskin Theatre, 7:30 PM. $21-$40.

El otro exilio ("The Other Exile")

See listing for Thursday, May 26. Wellington Theater, 7:30 PM. $20-$25.

SATURDAY, MAY 28

Breakfast Discussion

WBEZ's Mara Tapp hosts a talk by Alan Ayckbourn on "Writing for the Theatre." Columbia College Theater/Music Center, Getz Theater, 10:30 AM. $10 (includes continental breakfast).

Communicating Doors

See listing for Thursday, May 26. Merle Reskin Theatre, 5 and 9 PM. $21-$40.

El otro exilio ("The Other Exile")

See listing for Thursday, May 26. Wellington Theater, 6 PM. $20-$25.

Jardin de pulpos ("Octopus Garden")

"Those of us who have lived in countries marked by conflicts resulting from conquests, revolutions, and dictatorships, who personify the debate between premodernism and postmodernism and in whom coexist diverse languages, characteristics and idiosyncrasies, and who pretend to live cohesively by a common geography that dictates nationhood . . . we seek the answers to what are the common denominators that define us. But the answers are generally avoided, manufactured, or demagogic." This statement by Taller del Sotano on its production of Jardin de pulpos ("Octopus Garden") could be discussing life in the U.S.--but the question driving Jose Acosta Navas's staging of Aristides Vargas's script is: "What is a Mexican?" This Mexico City-based experimental troupe, a recent presence on the international theater scene, turns to the work of early 20th-century writers, painters, and musicians to evoke and examine the Mexican national identity. Performed in Spanish with English translation available. Wellington Theater, 9 PM. $20-$25.

SUNDAY, MAY 29

Jardin de pulpos ("Octopus Garden")

See listing for Saturday, May 28. Wellington Theater, 2 PM. $20-$25.

Communicating Doors

See listing for Thursday, May 26. Merle Reskin Theatre, 2 and 7 PM. $21-$40.

El otro exilio ("The Other Exile")

See listing for Thursday, May 26. Wellington Theater, 7 PM. $20-$25.

TUESDAY, MAY 31

The Persians

It's surprising to realize that the four previous festivals never brought a Greek company to Chicago, given both the city's large Greek population and Greece's dominant position in the history of western drama. Remedying past sins of omission, Athens' Attis Theatre arrives this week with two productions. The first is Aeschylus' tragedy, originally presented in 472 B.C. (eight years after the Athenians' victory over their Persian enemies at Salamis), but here staged with an eye to such current parallels as Bosnia and the Middle East. That's appropriate; unlike every other known Greek tragedy, The Persians is based not on ancient legend but on a contemporary event: depicting the grief of the Persians following their defeat at Salamis, it both rebukes them for their prideful war-making and laments with them in their loss. Theodoros Terzopoulos, who founded the Attis in 1985, stresses his troupe's intensely physical (though minimalist) approach to drama, labeling it Dionysian rather than Apollonian. Performed in ancient and modern Greek with English translation available. Wellington Theater, 7:30 PM (opening). $20-$25.

Communicating Doors

See listing for Thursday, May 26. Merle Reskin Theatre, 7:30 PM. $21-$40.

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 1

Needles and Opium

See Critic's Choice. Vic Theatre, 7:30 PM (opening). $17.50-$22.50.

Communicating Doors

See listing for Thursday, May 26. Merle Reskin Theatre, 7:30 PM. $21-$40. Note: "A Conversation With Alan Ayckbourn" at 2 PM this afternoon will feature the playwright discussing his work and his ideas on theater in a question-and-answer program moderated by Chicago playwright Charles Smith. Northwestern University Theatre and Interpretation Center, Josephine Louis Theatre, 1979 South Campus Dr., Evanston, 708-491-3751. Free.

The Persians

See listing for Tuesday, May 31. Wellington Theater, 7:30 PM. A discussion follows the performance. $20-$25.

Camel Gossip III

The Amsterdam-based Dogtroep, an ensemble of actors, musicians, sculptors, artists, and technicians, was founded in 1975 by a core of street performers; these days its specialty is whimsical, site-specific spectacles custom-made for the city they're playing (previous Camel Gossips were presented in Glasgow and Amsterdam). That may be why this family-oriented production, at the newly opened Navy Pier Skyline Stage, is receiving a set of previews prior to a June 5 opening. Press materials refer to "the aesthetics of chaos" in the company's work--take the name Dogtroep, a meaningless word that was printed by mistake in a program and took hold. Navy Pier Skyline Stage, 9 PM (preview). $21-$26.

THURSDAY, JUNE 2

The Kanon

Running in repertory with The Persians, this Attis Theatre production is a contemporary play (by Vassilis Vassikehayoglou) inspired by ancient legend. Described as "a series of erotic conflicts and imaginary murder," it concerns a poet's interaction with two of his fantasy creations. The trio's game of sexual intrigue is accompanied by the music of the Kronos Quartet. Wellington Theater, 7:30 PM (opening). Performed in Greek with English translation available. $20-$25.

Communicating Doors

See description for Thursday, May 26. Merle Reskin Theatre, 7:30 PM. A discussion follows the performance. $21-$40.

Camel Gossip III

See listing for Wednesday, June 1. Navy Pier Skyline Stage, 9 PM (preview). $21-$26.

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